Putting aside the rubber glue and chemicals she's using to repair shoes, Marion Quiroga pulls off her gas mask and gushes about her job in a way that makes it seem as though the fumes are getting to her.
"It's really exciting. I love my job, I really do. I come to work every day and there's something new on my table and I'm like, 'Oh, what is it?' " she says.
There is something intoxicating about her job and it's not just the glue. Quiroga loves her work as a costume technician in the wardrobe department of The Venetian's "Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular."
Surrounded by elaborate, colorful costumes and charged with maintaining them, Quiroga's days are a cross between playing Barbie and mad scientist.
"We're not given much information on how to maintain stuff, so we've been figuring it out," Quiroga says of the wardrobe department's mission since the show opened in 2006. "We're learning every day as we go along. We get better as we go."
The original pattern designs from the Broadway version of "Phantom of the Opera" were used for the show's period costumes: long ball gowns with hoop skirts, striking masks, beaded costumes and tuxedos were made specifically for the Las Vegas version of the Tony Award-winning musical.
Quiroga and her co-workers -- head stitcher Yolan Pinter-Campbell, laundress Gisela Plotnick, jack-of-all-trades Teresa Harrington, seamstress Cristina Ramos and department head Michael O'Brien -- can repair or alter the costumes using whatever technique they see fit. The only mandate is that the clothes look like they did on opening night.
On this recent Thursday, Quiroga rounds up every shoe she can find and sets about repairing them, gluing rubber to the soles, reattaching beads, fixing heels.
Born and raised in Germany, Quiroga did an internship at the Frankfurt Opera House, where she honed her sewing abilities on the most ornate costumes. At "Phantom," she's responsible for the gluing and other activities that require training she has never had. But Quiroga doesn't let that stand in her way.
Through the process of elimination, guesswork and collaboration, she has discovered the best ways to attach rubber to shoes, beads to belts, wire to masks.
"It's really rewarding to find a way to make something work and to be trusted with it," she says. "I had never done shoes to this magnitude, but I had to figure out where to get the best rubber, what glue to use."
The five women work six days a week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., repairing costumes, altering them, washing them. Working in wardrobe, one cannot have an ego, Pinter-Campbell says. Sitting in the department as the women go about their routine, it's apparent that they don't. None of them, save Ramos, ever considered appearing onstage; they say they've always been more comfortable working behind the scenes. They're so unassuming, the women don't even know their titles.
"I don't know, what's my title?" Harrington asks, bewildered.
"She's the bead queen," Pinter-Campbell declares.
For 15 years, Harrington worked at Bally's "Jubilee!" handling thousands of beads. It's her forte at "Phantom." She sits at her worktable, making costume adjustments and repairs and reattaching loose beads on costumes.
Ramos got her start in show business as a girl in Mexico. Growing up in a circus family, she had to learn a little bit of everything, she says, but her strongest skill was on the trapeze. She also learned how to handle a needle and thread, making her own costumes, so when she had an opportunity to work as a seamstress in Las Vegas, she took it.
Laundry for the show is extensive; when Plotnick comes in to start her day, she's greeted by piles of it. Sometimes she washes dozens of loads of laundry a day. Today, she washes and irons 16 tuxedo shirts, among other things.
"My husband knows I'm not washing clothes at home," Plotnick says.
In the main wardrobe room, where boxes of beads, cloth and other materials line the shelves, Pinter-Campbell hems a ball gown that weighs at least 20 pounds. The actress who wears it feels like she's tripping on it, especially in the scene where she carries a head across the stage with her arms in the air.
It's a safety issue, Pinter-Campbell says, so all of her other work is pushed aside momentarily, while she maneuvers the gown's oversized skirt into a sewing machine. It's no easy feat and takes her about two hours to complete.
The weight of the costumes was an issue when the $75 million show was being developed. Historically, the costumes weighed as much as 70 pounds. Since "Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular" is a shorter, faster show than the original, and actors work six days a week, the costumes need to be lighter.
Though they are, actors still tend to lose weight once they start performing regularly, Pinter-Campbell says. She often must take in waistlines on dresses and pants.
Pinter-Campbell, who has worked wardrobe for Broadway shows and the band 'N Sync, got her start in summer stock theater in 1985. Yo, as she's known by her co-workers, has worked with so many celebrities, she jokes that she'll write a book called "Remember, I've Seen You Naked" when she retires.
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 380-4564.